The 'iSlate': Could it look like this?

Nowhere is this week's launch by Apple of its new tablet device more breathlessly awaited than in the executive offices of traditional publishing houses. For the tablet – or the iSlate or the iPad as it may become known – is regarded as a possible saviour for newspapers, magazines and textbooks.

There are electronic reading devices in existence already, such as Sony's e-Reader and Amazon's Kindle. But publishers hope the unquestioned design talents of Apple will ensure that its latest product is the vehicle that enables them to transform their business models. After all, the iPod has converted millions to the idea of paying to download songs and, to a degree, has revived the music industry, becoming the world's largest music retailer in the process. The iPhone has created a culture of acquiring apps for "just about anything", many of them paid for.

Newspaper content is already being widely consumed on smart mobile phones but mostly for free. With a touch screen of 10 to 11 inches, the Apple tablet presents publishers of all kinds with the opportunity to create an entirely new reader experience, one that consumers might be persuaded to pay for.

David Rowan, editor of the UK edition of the technology magazine Wired, said the size of the tablet screen could mean that readers enjoyed a "comparable experience" to reading a magazine. Innovative publishers would be offered myriad opportunities, such as accompanying an article on a film director with video footage, or a recipe piece with touch screen links to ingredients.

But he warned against the idea of thinking that the tablet would replace glossy magazines. "The reason there is a buzz of excitement in the publishing industry is that it has been a very scary 18 months for a lot of existing big media companies and people are looking for a golden solution," he said.

"I don't think it will be that but it's an opportunity for innovative companies to find extra ways of building an audience."

One obstacle with the Apple tablet may be portability. Many consumers are very happy with the petite nature of a smart phone, having paid out for a Google Android or an iPhone. "Am I going to want to carry a delicate, solid, 10-inch screen?" wondered Rowan.

"I don't see that many people with Kindles and eReaders when I'm out and about."

Neil Robinson, digital director at IPC Media, agreed there was a hope that Apple would unveil a device with a user interface of revolutionary design. "Arguably Apple offers us the best opportunity so far for an interactive device," he said. "Hopefully it will be quite a significant step forward."

He said publishers needed such a device to provide an attractive platform for advertisers, who have been reluctant to take their business to magazine websites.

Jobs and his team are in talks with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, the New York Times Co. and magazine publishers such as Conde Nast and television networks including CBS and Disney.